'Edinburgh isn't just the Capital of Scotland, it's the paranormal Capital of the world' - Jimmy Devlin, Ghost Finder General
If you’ve ever had any doubt Edinburgh is one of the most haunted cities in the world, spend some time with Jimmy Devlin, the city's self-styled ghost finder general. He declares without hesitation, "Having investigated venues in most UK cities, I’d say Edinburgh isn’t just the Capital of Scotland, it’s the paranormal Capital of the world.”
The local authority worker has gathered his ghostly investigations together in a new book, Knock IIwice [Knock Twice]. It records his eerie encounters in and around the city and across the UK. "The stories in my book are unique. I am actually quite a private person even though I host ghost hunting events. After years of sharing my encounters with people who suggested I write about them, now I have. The book is a compilation of my most scary encounters and I try to place the reader in my shoes. Everyone loves a good ghost story, the beauty of these is that they are all true and could just have easily happened to anyone who reads them."
The book charts a host of recollections, all guaranteed to send a shiver down the spine.
“My most significant encounters have been in the Blair Street vaults,” he reveals. “Having hosted overnight events there for nearly a decade, I’ve had items knocked from my grasp, seen an apparition walk down a corridor, heard countless groans and felt freezing breaths on my face."
If those experiences might be enough to chill the most hardened of skeptics, there's more as Devlin continues, "I've also watched as a burning candle was slowly pushed towards me with nobody else present, it hit the floor at my feet, and I have visited Corstorphine Hill House, slap bang in the middle of the Zoo where I heard the ghostly voice of one of its previous owners. The house now serves as offices for the zoo's administration staff, who invited me in after suffering years of unexplained experiences."
Devlin describes himself as "just a guy who in his own unique way will investigate any allegedly haunted castle, mansion, pub, house or even cave."
He adds, "I love history with mystery thrown in to boot. Whether I can shed light on any truths whilst in the dark depends on what I experience. The supernatural is my passion, even though it’s not everybody else’s fashion."
Devlin was just 8 years old when he had his first spooky experience, something. “Even before that I could sense I wasn’t alone in certain situations. My stomach would tighten, my body would tingle and my breath become deeper but my heart would beat faster. I would liken my sensitivity to something primitive, an enhancement of the natural senses that, over a period of time, most of us lose as we get older. Happening at such a young age, it’s stayed with me.”
Those childhood scares included a haunted walk-in cupboard under the stairs, which he dare not go near after hearing noises coming from it. As he writes in the book, on occasion, his toys would turn up in that cupboard, even though no one knew how they got there.
He recalls, “I knew there was no hairy, sharp-toothed monster waiting to pounce but had years of pretending to be asleep after hearing their noises. It does feel like all of this chose me, rather than me choosing it.”
He's keen to point out, however, that he's not a medium. "I can't communicate clairvoyantly or psychically, but I do know when I’m not alone."
That's exactly how he felt during his most chilling encounter, one that took place at Borthwick Castle, in Midlothian.
"The castle is just 12 miles from the city centre and, in 2007, I had the castle to myself for a night during which I encountered an entity on the stairs outside the notorious Red Room, at around midnight. Initially I heard a door banging downstairs, which was followed by footsteps coming up the spiral stone stairs. As the steps grew closer and louder so did the breaths and groans. Being faced with this while on your own in the dark on a hazardous staircase is quite an experience. As I heard the entity come closer I’ve never been so scared in my life."
Unlike many paranormal investigators who rely on electronic equipment, the 49-year-old eschews most modern means of contacting the spirit world.
"I do use some equipment, but only if it can enhance my senses," he explains. "Items such as a night vision camera, a voice activated digital recorder and a basic instrument for measuring the atmosphere around me. I do have other items, a thermal camera and movement sensors, but only use them when needed rather than as par for the course.
"Too much time is often spent focusing on equipment displays instead of the atmosphere you’re investigating. There is a place for everything though, but I like to do things my own way and preferably on my own. There is a sense of vulnerability investigating when on your own, whether that’s an attraction to certain entities is open for debate, although most, if not all, my significant experiences have happened whilst alone."
One of the biggest influences on Devlin’s interest in the paranormal was controversial Liverpool spiritualist medium Derek Acorah, best known for his appearance on the Living TV show Most Haunted.
"Derek was one of a kind and wasn’t afraid to be himself," he recalls. "He was known as ‘the self-styled medium’ and will always be remembered as one of the world's most renowned psychic mediums. It was his individuality and abilities that first urged me to reach out to him in 2007. I then became close friends with him and his wife, Gwen. We shared many adventures along the way and when we worked together at public events his enthusiasm was infectious.
"I hosted his Ghost Hunt event last December, his last ever public appearance - we lost him a mere three weeks later. I was so proud to share the floor with him, hosting his memorial event in March was the proudest, but also one of the saddest, moments in my life. Derek loved Edinburgh and knew the haunted side of the Capital extremely well."
While a number of Edinburgh venues feature in Knock IIwice, there are still a few left on his bucket-list.
"Straight off the bat I’d say the Castle or maybe the Palace of Holyroodhouse, those would be high on my list. Realistically, I don’t think the chances of that happening are very good so I’d plump for a ghostly theatre tour; perhaps spending a night in the King's, Playhouse, Usher Hall and Festival Theatres. I’d love to do a night in each and then take members of the public in for overnight events to raise funds for the venue."
He reflects, “I’ve never investigated a theatre before, except one that was inside a gigantic mansion house in Birmingham, but that doesn’t count … does it?"
Knock IIwice [Knock Twice], by Jimmy Devlin, priced £9.99, is available here
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